A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT
Michael Connelly


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Little, Brown & Co., 2001
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Detective Thriller

Two detectives from Michael Connelly’s previous books clash over a case both of them initially wanted to avoid. Harry Bosch and Terry McCaleb are equally obsessed with stopping murderers, but have very different personalities.

Small-time murderer Edward Gunn is himself gruesomely murdered. To profiler Terry McCaleb it looks like the start of a series of "avenging angel" killings. McCaleb is irresistibly drawn to the puzzle, in spite of the damage it may do to his happy home life. No one cared enough about the prostitute Gunn had killed to come forward and claim her body, so who cared enough about her murderer to sit and watch his dying struggles for hours? Unfortunately no one likes McCaleb’s answer.

Meanwhile, Harry Bosch is the lead witness in the murder trial of one of Hollywood’s movers and shakers, a man who has frankly declared himself to be immune to justice. Bosch doesn’t need the kinds of distractions provided by the death of Gunn -- a death he would normally have celebrated. As inevitably as McCaleb is swept back into his FBI mindset, the reader is swept up by Michael Connelly’s very readable style into the hunt for a highly skilled murderer and an intricate, one might say artistic, plot.

However, if the author truly did set out to explore the darkness of the soul in A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT, he was nowhere near as successful as, for example, James Ellroy. The tone is closer to intellectual exercise than to an experience of darkness. But let’s face it, Ellroy is pretty heavy on the palate for a lot of readers. In DARKNESS, Connelly has given us believable portraits of two obsessed men and the psychological effects their work has on them.

Throughout his books Michael Connolly has a clear pattern of turning his characters upside down. These changes are not always plausible. For example, Jack MacEvoy, one of the minor characters of A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT, earlier had his own book, THE POET, in which he was so depressed his grief could make the back of your throat ache. In DARKNESS, he is simply an obnoxious reporter who doesn’t care who gets hurt by the secrets he tells. In previous books Harry Bosch has been a loose cannon detective dedicated to bringing the killer to justice. In DARKNESS, part of the mystery hinges on the question of how much Bosch has changed. The most successful example of Connolly character reversals that I have read happens all within one book, VOID MOON, in which he gradually exposes the true natures of his main antagonists, hotel thief Cassie Black and trouble shooter Jack Karsh. It would appear that in spite of the way the author repeatedly brings back familiar characters, he cares less about continuity from one book to the next than about how well they work within a single book.

In the world according to Connolly, the cops are always corrupt: Local, IA, FBI, you name it. It’s a given, so reliable you can take it as a guide in finding your way through the books. When Connolly uses Terry McCaleb, from outside the system, as his hero, he is able to explore police corruption from another viewpoint and to express disgust freely. In TRUNK MUSIC and again in DARKNESS, when cops start throwing accusations against each other about who is working for the mob, falsifying evidence, and other mayhem, I finally want to yell, "Enough, already! Get out the lie detectors." That’s right, those handy little machines which, suitably used, would dispose of most of the books in the contemporary mystery genre. OK, we don’t want to lose our delightful reads, so we can pretend lie detectors were never invented, but there’s a price. The author has to make us willing to suspend our disbelief. Sometimes Connolly’s characters are good enough company to do that and sometimes not – especially not when he is cooking up one of his "you’re screwed, buddy" situations.

Connolly’s prose style has evolved over the last few years. I started with books he wrote about five years ago, and found that back then he was reaching for clever, decorative wording. Maybe once per book he would achieve a phrase that revealed inner and outer realities, but usually they were verbal ornament. Apparently he began to realize that what he was trying to do was not natural to him. He has gradually dropped the tricks, and in A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT he unveils the kind of smooth prose that seems to flow directly from the page to the brain without interference from the eyes. Combine this extreme readability with his usual interesting plotting, and you are bound to have a popular book.

I first read A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT in December, encountered some distractions, and when I came back to review it three months later I re-read the book. To my surprise I could remember almost nothing of what happens in it. Then two friends independently volunteered that they had read it but couldn’t remember what it was about. From this limited but unanimous sample it seems fair to say, noir readers will find A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT to be an enjoyable, not a memorable experience.

March 2002 Review Originally Published on the Independent Reviews Site

 

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